Monthly Archives: December 2015

Subjugation

I can’t find it now, of course, but this past season I saw a picture of “cool Santa.” I’m pretty sure he was advertising something, though I have no idea what. His beard was trimmed; he’d lost some weight. He had a motorcycle, and was dressed pretty spiffy. Also, he had a smartphone.

Also, he was in “the smartphone stance.”

Do you know that stance? It’s similar to, and nearly as common now, as the glamorous cigarette shot of yester-year. Don’t look at the cigarette/smartphone. Hold in such a way to show that, yes, you own it, but deign to give your attention elsewhere.

Know what I’m talking about? No? That’s okay. Even if you aren’t tracking with me about iconic photo trends, we’ve all heard (ad nauseam, probably) the comparisons between smartphone use and addictions. About how in fifty years we’ll be horrified–smoking at the dinner table! Smoking in bed right before falling asleep! Smoking in restaurants! Smoking while you walk, smoking while you drive, smoking while you study, smoking while you work!

But the fact that smartphone use is addicting is not what I found notable. It just reminded me of the thoughts I’ve been having lately that it seems to me that society’s relationship to addictions are changing. There was a time there when being “addicted” was something I heard talked about in horrible, hushed tones. Now, I hear people talking about how they’re addicted to pumpkin spice, about “crack” pie or other “crack” food, because it’s so addicting. People talk with delight about their obsessions, make light of alcoholism, “can’t even” live without the latest tacky trend.

Yes, we all get addicted. Is it something to be ashamed of, something to be managed, something to take almost childish delight in?

I think it is a good question. For but one example, I live in a nation that has sometimes been described as being addicted to their rat race, for their long hours and high stress and career expectations. I’ve heard many admittances that this does horrible things for us. Sometimes I hear pride about it anyhow, like an anorexic proud of how skinny they are. Sometimes I hear some sadness, but mostly I hear a lot of talk about balance. Life-work balance, don’t you know. If we can just get the balance right. . .

But you know, I don’t know, I don’t read much in the Bible about a life-work balance. I mostly read, yes, you will be obsessed. Make sure you are totally and wholly obsessed with the right thing. And this is a hard thing. Because while we sometimes like the idea that we aren’t don’t have to have self-control, we also really do not like the idea that we’re supposed to be committed to just One. We want endless lattes AND skinny jeans; fame and glory AND leisure; family AND power. Serving two (or forty-three) masters is what we’re all about. Serving just One is disturbing and distasteful.

People often try to express that about “religion,” too. It’s okay if it’s “part” of your life, and it’s kind of quaint if you go to church on Sundays. But be religious in moderation, okay? Nothing too weird.

I think people have tried to talk about this before, but not in any way that resonated to me. Jesus Freak. Magnificent Obsession. I guess part of what I find distasteful in that is it’s still the “haha, isn’t it cute? I’m, like, totally addicted to God!” There’s such an ‘oopsy’ there. I just can’t help myself. It just happened. Maybe that’s good enough for the gods of the world, but what I understand God to be looking for is much more deliberate, conscious, and insistent. We aren’t getting our “fix” of God, because to serve God is to serve Him even if it means getting thrown into the fiery furnace, not because serving God gives us our “high” of the day.

It’s hard because it’s singular. It’s hard because it means saying no to other things. It’s hard, because we don’t own God, and because we can’t just trade out one drug for another if we decide it isn’t working. And it’s hard because we can’t throw in any ‘and’s. No God AND safety. God AND predictability. God AND glamour. God AND rationality. Just God. Only God. And there’s no sequestering, no God over there, and something else over here.

I don’t think addiction used to be okay. I think we used to use the language of duty and responsibility and maybe even loyalty. And I think those concepts have gone almost entirely out of fashion. It’s not that using the concepts of responsibility makes things better; one can be responsible to the wrong things just as easily as addicted to the wrong thing. But addictions being viewed and frivolous and indiscriminate and harmless makes it harder to convey the sobriety of the situation. It’s not something you do on your own time that you pretend doesn’t have an effect on your real life or your relationships. It’s a commitment entered into seriously, a level of devotion that far overcomes “preference” or “taste.” And it doesn’t photograph as cool, not by a long shot. Addictions are style points; God is not.

The problem is that while some of us would like to think that we could be the centurion that declared the presence of the Son of God, the humble man who prayed for forgiveness, the rich soil that bore fruit a hundred-fold–it’s still really, really hard to pray, “Not what I want, but what You will.” The lists of what we want are easier to write, and re-write when things change. And it’s hard to say, “none of this really matters,” and walk away from it all. It’s hard to accept, sometimes, what surrender really looks like.

And the problem with Santa with a cellphone is that I see myself there, as odd as it may seem. Rationalizing my addictions, holding out plans for self-improvement or shaping of my own life. In the flinch-and-look-away is the whisper of truth: I struggle so with my own lack of self-control; how can I be dedicated to my God?

How often it is forgotten: There is sorrow leading to death and there is sorrow leading to life. There is a point to see such things, and it’s not in wallowing in self-condemnation. It is so that when there are those tempting lists of self-improvements and life plans, we remember something more true. The God who created us, fearfully and wonderfully, is eternal. His song is for ages past and for all the tomorrows. For now, for this time, He is outside the camp. Let us go to Him.